The leaps Catherine and Michael Fothergill took onstage as dancers with the Alabama Ballet were, undoubtedly, a bit more rehearsed than the one they took in the summer of 2017. That year, following the departure of Ballet Arkansas Artistic Director Michael Bearden and Artistic Associate Laura Hood Babcock, the Fothergills bid adieu to Alabama and placed all their bets on a small but fiercely devoted group of dancers here in Little Rock. Since then, the Fothergills have overseen everything from pliés to public relations. I caught up with them during their preparations for “Forte,” a mixed repertory performance in May that’s bound to play a reel of strikingly varied highlights of what the human body can do.
What’s the biggest misconception about ballet?
That it is for a specific audience. Ballet, and dance as a whole, can impact every pocket of individuals who exist. We use our bodies to empower, inspire, incite and compel all sorts of things. We tell stories that are relevant to all, and bring beauty and joy to our audiences in the process.
Anyone who isn’t following the Ballet Arkansas Instagram account might be missing out on the degree to which your dancers are invested in the company’s ethos. They’re not just hired hands. They tell their personal stories. They put on aprons and pour wine at your fundraisers. They do Instagram takeovers. Can you talk a little about running a company that’s relatively small, and what that means in terms of your group work dynamic?
We want our dancers to feel like they are part owners of the organization. They are the primary presenters of the product, and they are the ambassadors of all we do. Our admin team wears many hats, and so do the dancers. We want them to dip their toes into diverse fields such as marketing, PR, business administration and learn as much as they can about the way an arts organization works from the inside out. This not only helps them to see how large a part of the organization they are, but it also prepares them for future transitions.
Do you aspire to grow the number of dancers, and what does it take to make that happen?
We hope to increase the number of dancers from 14 to 25 over consecutive seasons. First and foremost, this takes funding and requires consistent support from the communities we support. Any arts organization that is growing is inevitably taking more risks. These are the times when we need support the most.
Your mixed repertory program in May involves, among other things, a collaboration with acclaimed pianist Drew Mays, a contemporary work by Ma Cong and a world premiere by Michael Fothergill. Can you explain a little about what a mixed repertory program is, and why a program like this might be a good chance to get acquainted with Ballet Arkansas?
Each piece on the program is entirely different and brings different vantage points to the profession. If you like contemporary dance, you’ll see two contemporary offerings on the bill. Like classical? You’ll see the full second act of “Swan Lake” and Balanchine’s famed “Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.” There’s something for every audience, not to mention the beautiful accompaniment from a world renowned pianist.
Ballet Arkansas will perform “Forte” Fri.-Sun., May 3-5, at UA Pulaski Tech’s Center for the Humanities and Arts (CHARTS); get tickets at balletarkansas.org. Show times are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.